Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Kid Went to Space Camp on an Academic Scholarship

The other day I was driving Will to the library, and as one does when one finally has one's teenager trapped in a small, enclosed space with one, we were discussing her recent accomplishments and her plans for the future. What she might want to study in college. Where she might want to volunteer next semester. What section of the public library she's going to read next. That sort of thing.

I was cracking her up by telling her that I could not stop telling people that she had just been to Space Camp. And more than that, every time I mentioned it, I also felt like I had to announce, in the same breath, that she had gone because she'd earned an academic scholarship.

I couldn't seem to just tell people that she'd gone to Space Camp. I had to mention that she'd also earned a scholarship. And I couldn't seem to just say that she'd earned a scholarship. I had to make sure that everyone knew that it was an ACADEMIC scholarship.

Seriously, I could not stop telling people this.

It was so bad that I found myself informing strangers. I don't even talk to strangers if I can help it normally, and yet here I was, talking to strangers, solely to work into the conversation the fact that my child, my special snowflake, had gone to Space Camp on an academic scholarship. The #mombrag is strong with this one, I'm afraid I must admit.


But if you knew how hard she worked for this scholarship, you'd understand a little better. Because this kid worked HARD! She wrote a research essay on a topic of the camp's choosing. She wrote a personal essay. She designed an original science experiment, performed that experiment (about five times, because it kept messing up), documented that experiment, and wrote up her methods and conclusions, with graphs. She submitted her SAT scores, and thank goodness that studying for and taking the SAT had been an intense and crazy project that she'd completed BEFORE she got the idea about Space Camp. She designed an original mission patch that represented her life and wrote an essay about it. She solicited two letters of reference from mentor adults. It was so much work that she wanted to give up several times. Each time I'd encourage her with something like, "You said you really wanted to do this," or "You've already worked so hard; it would be a shame to drop it now," or, the one that worked the best because my kid is an introvert, "Well, *I* don't care if you finish or not, but if you don't finish, you're going to need to tell the people who wrote your letters of reference that you're not applying after all, or otherwise they'll expect to hear from you about whether or not you got in."

She finished. It was one of the hardest things she's ever done, but she finished.

And four months later, she found out that she'd earned a full scholarship. My heart can't handle how excited and happy I've been for her ever since that day. You wouldn't believe how many ways I've found to work this information into a completely irrelevant conversation with strangers.

A couple of weeks ago, her dad drove her down to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama (which is a stroke of good luck for us, as it's *only* a six-hour drive. That same week, Space Camp had trainees from five other countries, 42 US states, and two US territories).

Here she is!

Will is more interested in aerospace than outer space, so she chose to use her scholarship to attend Aviation Challenge Mach II. It's a hands-on aerospace/aviation camp, with some military overtones because the military is the main outlet for this kind of aviation. Like, she managed to watch Top Gun twice while she was there. That kind of thing.

The camp's photo package that I paid good money for did not impress me with the quantity/quality of photos that I ended up with from camp, but to be fair, if I'd relied on the kid to take the photos I'd have ended up with zero photos, so there you go. As it is, though, out of a full five days of going hard with her teammates doing all kinds of things (what, I'm not 100% clear about, as I also have the kind of kid who not only doesn't take photos, but also doesn't talk much, either, and there are only so many leading questions you can ask about something you weren't there for, sigh...), here are my two photos of camp, both of the hoist used during the water rescue after a helicopter crash:

Tangentially, I've actually emailed customer service, because surely out of five days of camp they have some other photos of my kid. Stay tuned!

Another cool thing about Aviation Challenge is that they treat all the trainees not like astronauts, as at the Space Camp, but as pilots. If you're a pilot, you go by a call sign. My kid's call sign?


Yep, everyone called my kid Wizard all week. It might seem less cool if you know it's because she loves the Young Wizards series, by Diane Duane, but I don't know. I think it makes it even more cool!

For most of that week, then, Syd got to pretend that she was an only child. We did all her favorite things, and on our last night, had a meal that consisted entirely of foods that she disliked sharing with her sister. But the night before Will's graduation from Space Camp, we booked it back down to Alabama, and there we were, bright and early the next morning, ready to see our girl again!

Random mural on the side of a liquor store in Huntsville:

Random rocket toy that I wasn't sure we'd be able to get Syd back out of without calling in the fire department:

Not-so-random family, including Syd's doll, Zelda, in her very own flight suit:

And finally, there's our girl!

Their commencement speech was given by a real, live astronaut, Robert Gibson! The kids were probably also excited by the fact that he's also a Top Gun graduate and former fighter pilot, but I'm all about the astronauts:

 Here's my kid, shaking hands with an astronaut:

 After Will's graduation, we did some sightseeing on the Aviation Challenge grounds. Here's the main component of the water rescue activities:

That big barrel is a helicopter airframe that the trainees are dropped into the water while sitting inside so that they can practice emergency water landings and water rescues. The Mach III trainees also zipline down from that helicopter at the top of the structure to practice water landings by parachute:

This is Will's dorm:

This is Zelda, pretending that she went to Aviation Challenge, too:

Part of the extreme awesomeness of the Aviation Challenge campus is the large number of aircraft that they have hanging around it:

Here's our brand-new graduate!

Will told us that this jet was used to film Top Gun. She watched it twice while at camp, remember? I have probably seen it 50 times...

After Will's graduation, we had the rest of the day to explore the US Space and Rocket Center. You probably don't know this, but I attended Space Camp, too, as a kid (though NOT with an academic scholarship!), so I had to visit my old stomping grounds:

Notice how well I'm representing, wearing my 28-year-old Space Academy T-shirt. I wore that shirt until just a few years ago, when it became clear that it was about to fall apart any second. I kept it safe, though, and pulled it back out for this visit, although I'm wearing a  second shirt underneath it, because I'm still pretty sure it's about to fall apart any second.

Here the kid and I are, both representing!

This is the Saturn I, the precursor to the Saturn V:

Here's the Pathfinder, a Shuttle test simulator, fully stacked with its solid rocket boosters and external tank:

This happy gal that's smiling at you is the Shuttle Training Aircraft, that mimicked the handling of the shuttle so that astronauts could practice:

Here I spotted some sisters reconnecting after their time apart:

Will would NOT let me talk any smack about Wernher Von Braun. Here's his office:

Here's a model of a rocket ship that he drew when he was a kid!

Even though I didn't have total buy-in from the family, I insisted on buying the Marshall Space Flight Center tour. I wanted to see where the Redstone was tested!

Here is the rest of my family humoring me:

But they didn't know that we were going to see THIS place!!!

You can't see through the glass very well, but on the other side of the window is the ground control for the ISS Payload Operations. They're managing the ISS's payload RIGHT NOW. See that video screen on the right? That's a live feed to an astronaut on the ISS RIGHT NOW, messing around with the payload doing something or other.

I don't need to brag anymore than I already have, but I'm just gonna tell you that he waved into the camera at us.

I won't go on and on about everything we saw there, but y'all--it was FASCINATING. Worth the price of the tour tickets right there.

Did you know that you can sign up on the NASA website for an email alert so that you can watch the ISS pass overhead? It tells you when you can watch, based on your zip code. I'm just waiting for my email alert now!

We're really glad to be back together!

Ah, HERE'S the Redstone testing site!

Here's the bunker where they watched the tests through a periscope stuck out of the roof:

They're still doing a lot of testing of various pieces of equipment at Marshall. The Space Launch System is coming!!!!!!!

The last stop on the tour was Environmental Control and Life Support. On the ISS, it's important to drink your pee:

Whenever I saw an Aviation Challenge logo, I made Will pose with it. Because of course!

We're almost done with my breathless retelling, I promise. Just the Saturn V Hall left to see!

I LOVE the Saturn V inside the hall. You're right up next to it, and walking it is the best way to really understand how freaking big it is:

This is cool. When scientists fled Nazi Germany, they had to leave their plans behind or destroy them. They didn't want to destroy their life's work OR give it to the Nazis, so they buried it all in a cave and sealed it in. Later, the Army actually sent a mission to recover those materials. This plan is one of those recovered items:

Here's what they built with it. You can see the plan on its left:

Here is an extra set of suits for the Apollo 1 astronauts. Heartbreaking:

Don't forget to notice every now and then how BIG Saturn V is!

Here's the Apollo capsule with its parachute attached:

And here are three young astronauts taking a test flight:

Look, they made it to the moon!

Aha! I finally found a Space Academy logo to represent in front of!

And finally, I bought us matching caps, the better to be Space Camp Buddies with:

I think I've told you before, many times, about my firm belief that people should do hard things. Kids should do hard things. Academically gifted kids, like this one of mine,  should do hard things. I know you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, duh" but when you're talking about an academically gifted kid, that's not as obvious as it sounds. A lot of things come easily to an academically gifted kid. Her younger sister had to LEARN to read. Will, though, just did it. No effort. She writes essays, no effort (until I come in with the red pen, of course...). She thinks her math is hard, but she doesn't know that I'm making her do the most rigorous math curriculum on the market. She breezes through grammar, geography, literature, science. History is hard, but that's because she's an eighth-grader studying for the AP exam.

For a kid like that, everything could be easy. She could breeze through her schoolwork if I let her, breeze through an entire 12 years of school, graduate with all As and no experience of struggle. And then where would she be the first time something is hard? The first time she has to struggle to learn? The first time that she's not the smartest girl in the room? I've seen that--experienced that, if I'm going to be honest--and I don't like it.

So instead, I make the kid take the SATs when she's just turned 13. I have her pick an AP exam and learn the material in the eighth grade. Like you'd do with any other kid, I encourage her to explore her passions, even the ones it's clear she's not "gifted" in--she doesn't have to be the best horseback rider or ice skater in the room, and she needs something she can enjoy without being automatically good at. Like you'd do with any other kid, when she's interested in something, I encourage her to go for it, and I push her to challenge herself and stretch herself for it. I tell her to go for the scholarship. I won't let her give up when applying for it gets hard. I prepare her for not being the best, help her come up with a Plan B to achieve her dream anyway--hey, if we put aside some money every month, if you take up a couple more chores every week, we could budget to send you to Space Camp NEXT year if you don't get a scholarship this year, and you can always apply for the scholarship again next year, too.

But man, when all that hard work pays off? When she works harder at something than she's ever had to work AND achieves it? And when what she achieves isn't just another good test score or certificate or check, but an actual, genuine experience of a lifetime? Something that encourages her to become braver and stronger and try even harder? Something that inspires her to dream even bigger next time?

Well, you can see why that's something that I can't seem to stop myself from bragging about. It was a lesson well and truly learned, this adventure of hers.

P.S. Want to follow along with more resources and adventures of homeschooling and traveling the world with two half-feral and awesome kids? Follow my Craft Knife Facebook page!

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